City of Modesto v. Dow Chemical Co.Annotate this Case
In 1998, Modesto, its Sewer District, and its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) sued retail dry cleaning businesses operating in Modesto, the manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment used at those establishments, and the manufacturers and distributors of dry cleaning solvent, alleging that the city’s groundwater, sewer system and easements, and the soil of property within the RDA project area were contaminated with perchloroethylene, a “toxic chlorinated solvent” and seeking recovery for past, present and future costs of investigation and remediation. The Polanco Redevelopment Act (Health & Saf. Code, 33459), which authorized redevelopment agencies to remediate contamination found in property, including private property, located in a redevelopment project area, and to recover costs from the “responsible parties” was central to the suit. After 14 years of litigation, with three appeals, a final judgment awarded damages with respect to three dry cleaning sites, including an award of punitive damages against three defendants; as to all other claims, judgment was entered in favor of defendants. The court of appeal vacated, holding that no special causation standard applies to Polanco Act claims. The court also: remanded with directions to deny motions for summary adjudication on the nuisance claims; reversed a punitive damages award; and vacated a directed verdict regarding property damage.